November 13, 2008

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Rachel Getting Married (R)
Anne Hathaway isn’t Rachel but she still finds a way to make Rachel’s wedding all about her in Rachel Getting Married, a raw and occasionally darkly comic drama about a wounded family pulling it together for a daughter’s wedding.

When people clench their jaws and narrow their eyes over the prospect of a Thanksgiving family get-together, muttering something about “stress” and “meeting at the bar later,” they are likely thinking of a family member similar to Kym (Anne Hathaway). We meet her as she leaves rehab and the taunts she trades with a fellow rehab patient suggest what the big dark thing that she’s trying to drink and drug away is. She is picked up by her father Paul (Bill Irwin) and his wife Carol (Anna Deavere Smith), who make chirpy small talk with her, occasionally sharing knowing looks when Kym makes some rehab joke or asks some scab-picking question. When Kym gets to the house, she sees Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) and her maid-of-honor Emma (Anisa George) working on Rachel’s wedding dress. Though Kym’s had limited rehab contact with Rachel, she’s dramatically wounded when she later finds out that Rachel has asked Emma, not Kym, to be the maid of honor, a position Kym petulantly demands she deserves. At the rehearsal dinner, Kym strains to interject herself into the Rachel-and-Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe) focused spotlight, physically thrusting herself into the space between Rachel and the girls’ clearly fragile mom Abby (Debra Winger). In the middle of a series of toasts to the couple, Kym leaps up and delivers one of the most cringe-worthy public speeches ever — bringing up her rehab and assorted misdeeds. Later, when an understandably frustrated Rachel calls Kym on her behavior, Kym announces to her family that she might as well start using again.

What is great about all these scenes of mortifying behavior on the part of Kym is that not only does Hathaway perform them perfectly, but the movie doesn’t let her off the hook during them. At some point in most movies like this, we are usually told by the movie that we must love and embrace the wounded addict character and forgive her for all the heartache she’s put her family through. In Rachel Getting Married, even groom Sidney’s best man Andrew (Jerome Le Page), a fellow addict, doesn’t really excuse away Kym’s destructiveness. Her family loves her, as we can see, because they are her family. But it is the kind of weary love that comes when you are unable to stop loving a family member but have minimal hope of them seriously changing. We in the audience are allowed to understand her, to even sympathize with her, but we aren’t forced to like her. We can believe that her family members will want to both heal her wounds and shake her with frustration.

Considering Hathaway’s pre-Rachel is mostly kid movies and froth (her blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role in Brokeback Mountain being one of the few exceptions), this movie really does make her a believable adult figure. Sure, it’s a young adult and an unlikeable one at that, but I think Hathaway’s own little twitches (doe-eyed “I’m vulnerable” looks that litter The Devil Wears Prada and Becoming Jane) fit really well with this emotionally manipulative character. She’s definitely broken free from the Princess Diaries chirpiness here and it does the character and her career a lot of good.

It’s the meatiness of Kym and the general misery-loves-company tone that really make Rachel Getting Married enjoyable to watch. This isn’t some wedding caper with a silly love story and a big happy party at the end. It’s the honesty of the movie that makes it a story which, despite its pain, you want to stick with. B

Rated R for language and brief sexuality. Directed by Jonathan Demme and written by Jenny Lumet, Rachel Getting Married is an hour and 51 minutes long and is distributed in limited release by Sony Pictures Classics.